Defense, Rebounding the Focus for Thunder With Pistons in Town

Coming off a defensive performance where the Thunder allowed only 74 points on 31 percent shooting to the New Jersey Nets, it is clear that the team’s goal is to try for a repeat effort tonight as the Detroit Pistons come to Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Thunder enters the game ranked 15th in the NBA by allowing 94.4 points per game, but because of its tempo, the Thunder can look to the amount of points per shot it allows as the barometer for its defensive prowess. Opponents are only scoring 1.12 points per shot, which makes the Thunder fifth best in the NBA in that category. Wing stopper Thabo Sefolosha and the rest of his Thunder teammates hope to make that lockdown defense a consistent part of each game, particularly with the help of its home crowd.

“It’s big, especially here at home,” Sefolosha said. “We just have to focus on us, and defense is a big part of what we do, so we have to keep that trend going.”

A major defensive focal point for the Thunder has been rebounding, especially from the guard positions. In Saturday's 84-74 victory at New Jersey, the Thunder had a season-high 55 rebounds, including 15 from Kevin Durant, nine from James Harden and eight from Sefolosha. With that type of rebounding production, the Thunder can limit opponents’ second-chance points opportunities in addition to setting up its own fast break points.

“We have to be able to box guys out, even though we’re pretty athletic and active up front,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “As a team, we still have to hit NBA players first before you get the rebound. I think a lot to do with it is we’re really good in transition, and a lot of times we trust the other guys that they’re going to rebound so we can get out and run. We can’t run until we secure the rebound.”

In facing the Pistons tonight, the Thunder will really have to focus in on playing the physical, tough-minded style that Brooks hopes for each game. The Pistons come into the contest averaging almost 11 offensive rebounds per game and, as Brooks noted, use a slow tempo to attempt to grind out victories.

“They try to wear you down with their physical play,” Brooks said. “They try to get you in the half-court set. We don’t want to play that way. We can score in it, but we want to get out and run and create the tempo in our favor.”

The Thunder averages 16.2 fast-break points per game and by boxing out, making solid outlet passes and then letting quick, explosive athletes such as Russell Westbrook, Durant and Harden get out into the open court, Brooks’ crew can increase that mark as the season goes on. But players like Sefolosha know they have their work cut out for them, because the NBA season is a long, grueling one.

“I think we just have to keep improving, keep finding one another, keep sharing the ball and playing defense the way we did last game,” he said.

While the Thunder will deal with back-to-back games, extensive road trips and other obstacles along the way, it can always stick to its core principles of solid team defense, hard-nosed rebounding and sharing the ball on offense. On nights like tonight, as the Thunder comes home from a week-long road trip, Brooks explained that he expects the same level of effort night-in and night-out, regardless of the circumstances or opponent.

“All you can hope for is that we play extremely hard and we execute very well,” Brooks said. “I like our chances when we do that against any team in this league.”